Ever since I could remember, I’ve always wanted a dog. I wanted a male, German shepherd,and I wanted to name him Trooper. My parents couldn’t afford one, and it was a lot of work to have a dog. So as I got older, my dream of being a dog owner was let go in the reality that my parents would never allow it.
When I was about twelve, my neighbors went to California because the mother of the family had cancer, and that was where her doctor was. So they left their Australian shepherd/border collie mix with us and said they would be back in a month for the dog. The dog’s name was Rick. He was about twelve years old when we first started puppy-sitting him.
On a sunny day, my siblings and I walked down to the brook for a mid-day swim. There was a bridge on our road that went over a brook. We swam beneath the bridge where the giant culverts were. The hot sun splashed down on us, soaking our swim wear in its rays. We yelled and joked for a good half hour when my little sister, Rosie, shouted “Ricky-Pooh! You found us!” I raised my eyes to where she was pointing, on the bridge. And sure enough, Rick was peering through the bushes smiling and panting at us.
My twin brother, John sighed. “Seriously? Why did he follow us?”
“Maybe he was worried we’d drown, so he was being life guard.” I giggled.
“Very funny, Catherine.” John rolled his eyes. “Okay, April, stay here with Rosie, while Catherine and I go take Rick home,” John instructed my other younger sister. With a nod from April, John and I climbed out of the water.
I wasn’t cold until I got out of the water. I wrapped my towel around my shoulders. “Cmon, Ricky.” I whistled at the long haired, happy dog. He obeyed right away and followed John and me back to the house.
My ma was happy to see Rick. She had thought she’d lost him in the first week we were puppy-sitting him. John and I went back to the brook. Rosie’s lips were blue and her chin was vibrating. We decided to just go back to the house and have a water balloon fight while Rosie warmed up on the couch with cocoa and an episode of “My Little Pony.”
A month went by and it was time for Rick to go back to his family. I had become rather fond of him in just four weeks. But mostly, Rick had gotten attached to my older sister, Becka, and followed her everywhere. I was disappointed because I wanted him to like me. But I just let it go. It’s not like Becka forced him to like her.
I was at a friend’s house the day that Rick was to be picked up by the father of the family who Rick belonged to. I had said my goodbyes to the dog and wished with all my heart that the father wold forget to pick him up. ( I knew it was rather selfish of me to wish that the dog’s very owner forget him. I wished it anyway.)
I was rather gloomy and not as hyper as usual while I was hanging out at my friend’s house. My friend noticed my sober state and asked if something was bothering me. “It’s just . . . ” I paused and sighed
“Just what?” My friend Maya peered at me in concern.
“Rick’s owner is picking him up today. I am really attached to Rick now and am sorry to see him leave.”
“Well, he is just going up the road a mile or two. You will see him again.” Maya tried her best to cheer me.
“I know.” And that was the end of the conversation.
I got home later in the afternoon. My plan was to read a book in my room and mope around the rest of the day, but that plan vanished as soon as I opened the front door. There, running towards me, was Rick. Barking his happy greeting and hopping around. I knelt on the front mat as I let him lick my face and patted him.
“Ricky Pooh! You’re still here!” I was so happy.That was one of the best days in my whole childhood.
Apparently, when our neighbor came to get Rick, they started walking down the road and Rick refused to go any further and walked back to my house. So our neighbor decided that Rick was happy with us and that we could keep him, if it was all right with my parents.
And so it was that we kept Rick. He followed Becka everywhere. He went to camp with us in September, and every time Becka got in a canoe and left Rick on shore, Rick would go bizarre. It was cute.
The weeks turned into months, and the months into a year. It seemed that Rick was aging too fast. He kept falling on the tile in our kitchen, so we bought him little rubber socks that we found at a pet store.
The second summer with Rick was probably the best. But as summer turned to fall,watching Rick go up the stairs was not pretty. He struggled and fell a few times. Someone had to be right with him when he went up or down the stairs. Sometimes, he couldn’t make it outside until it was to late. We never punished him for that. We knew he was old and expected him to wet.
When Christmas came around again, Rick lay by the tree as we opened our gifts. I got Rick a doggy biscuit from the pet store, but what he gave me was better. Rick gave me the gift of being my first dog, and he made me happy.
As the days after Christmas proceeded, I heard talk about Rick -not good talk, talk about getting him euthanized at the vet’s. Not long after I began to hear this talk, Becka called for a meeting.
“Guys,” Becka began as Rick lay at her side. “Rick’s getting old. And . . .
“I don’t want to hear it,” I interrupted.
My dad was sitting in a rocking chair in the living-room where the meeting was. “What?” He asked.
“I don’t want to hear it. I know what she’ll say."
“Let her talk," he said.
“Fine.” I crossed my arms and braced my heart for the words that were about to fall out of my sister’s mouth.
“We’re gonna take Rick to get put down 5th of January.”
“That only gives us four days!” I yelled. I stormed up the stairs into my room and slammed the door. I crammed my face into my pillow in frustration. Becka knocked on the door. I didn’t answer her, but she came in anyway. We talked about a lot of things. (It was mostly her doing the talking) She told me that it was the right thing for Rick. I knew that, I thought. I couldn’t talk her out of it.
The night before the fifth, I slept down stairs with Rick. I thought about all the times before that when I had heard him whining and came downstairs to calm him. I would fall asleep petting him. I closed my eyes and listened to him breathing. I knew by that time the next day, I wouldn’t hear it ever again.
I woke early the next morning, January fifth. What a horrible day! Becka put Rick in the small car. I went over to the window. He barked at me. That was the last time I ever heard his bark. I watched as Becka drove away. I watched them disappear down the road. My first dog, gone so quickly. I immediate wished I’d stopped her. I wished I had sat in front of the car and hadn’t let her drive away. I didn’t cry. I just kept staring in the direction the car had disappeared.
I went to my room and watched out the window, waiting for Becka to come back. I was there a good long hour and a half. I decided to wash the dishes while I waited. I washed the cups, the plates, the bowls, random silverware, and then I washed Rick’s food bowl, the one I had watched him eat out of for so long, and then the water bowl, the one I had refilled so many times.
When Becka got home, I went to my room and closed the door. I wanted to remember Rick the way he was -not as the still, stiff body that I knew came with her. When Becka came back without the lively, happy dog she’d left with, that was when it all became real. Rick wasn’t coming home again. I stayed in my room the rest of the night. I didn’t sleep much.
I still miss Rick. although I know we did what was right, I will never forget my first dog. I put flowers on his resting spot under the big pine tree. I picture him all the time. His warm, liquid eyes that stared at me as I moved about a room. I think of him when I open the fridge door without having to step over him to do so. I think of him when I see the yard where we used to play. He licked the back of my right hand the day he passed, and it’s weird, but I will remember that too. I remember how my hands smelled after petting him, how soft his ears were, what his fur felt like, how gross his breath smelled. He took a giant piece of my heart that will never be replaced.
I will always remember my first dog.
(true story - names are fictionalized)
(Final Lesson of Writing Lessons - Autobiography)
If you are between the ages of 13 -18,
(or know someone who likes to write stories)
I would like to post your story here.
Send me an email. I'd love to read your story!